It was a typical November night in 1981 heading to the Memorial Auditorium in Kitchener Ontario to see the visiting Ottawa 67’s and the hometown Kitchener Rangers. My first scouting assignment with a start up agency in the west. “Green as green can be” I went to see two great, young hockey players, Moe Lemay for the 67’s and Brian Bellows for the Rangers. I took my Father along as I knew being my first game in an introduction to scouting, I figured I would need some guidance. First game……great experience!
I left the “Aud” headed home with my father. The main ingredient of our conversation for the twenty-five-minute drive to Stratford was not the two great prospects but rather the runaway “Freightliner” we had just witnessed. Scott Stevens was a seventeen-year-old defenseman that was the most physical presence I had ever seen. On a 200-foot sheet of ice it was not if someone was going to be hit with a bone jarring check it was when and would there be damage. No question I saw a great kid from a great family playing, in his hometown and you knew he was headed to an NHL career.
Fast forward forty years. I often reflect on how Scott Stevens would fit in today’s NHL. Not that far removed from the game, I am curious, would Scott Stevens be visiting the NHL Disciplinary Offices on a regular basis? Bottom line is the game has changed. The game we all love continues to grow and evolve.
Bigger, stronger, faster, finely tuned athletes continue to ply their trade on the same 17,000 square feet of ice that their idols played on decades ago. I never imagined I would see a defenseman playing with great effectiveness thirty plus minutes a night at 6’9″ 255ibs. Is Zdeno Chara an exception or is he the sign of things to come?
Edmonton Oiler, Connor McDavid may be the new heir to the speed and skill category. Not that long ago the Montreal Canadiens had the “Roadrunner” a 5’7″ 170lb goal scorer that blew by opponents fighting off sticks to slow him down. Now the stick impeding speed is a guaranteed visit to the “sin bin” to feel shame. The game is changing that is for sure. I cannot remember the last time I seen a National Hockey League player come off the bench for his only shift of the game to look after “business” in defence of a teammate or the logo on the jersey. Today the guys that try to keep other teams honest must be able to perform in other areas as well.
Do I enjoy the game today? Without question it brings a different type of excitement. I used to love those Boston Bruin, Philadelphia Flyer wars of a time long gone but maybe like us with age the game evolves as well. I think the game of hockey is in good hands and is headed in a positive direction. Changes still need to be made in some areas but I do think the NHL is trying to lead the way. The game will continue to go through many changes right down the junior ranks to the little players just starting. It all takes time.
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